Monday, January 3, 2011

Roddy McDowall at Seattle's Cirque Dinner Theater 1975

I don't remember what got me on this topic, but I met Roddy McDowall once a long time ago. I met him in a large room, with a stage. There were only the two of us there for a short time, just talking.

It was at the Cirque Dinner Theater in Seattle.

He was performing in a play, a farce really, by Brandon Thomas, as the character, Lord Fancourt Babberley. The play was called Charlie's Aunt. The only date I can find for this, and its listed in several places, was on Tuesday, August 12, 1975. On September 9th, of that year, I entered the Air Force.

My mother had took my younger brother, Kim and I, to Seattle, to the Cirque ticket office, to pick up the tickets. It may have been the day before but considering that my brother died of cancer in June of 1975, I have to assume that my feelings that this event took place earlier, has to be valid. However, I cannot find documentation anywhere on a prior engagement. Its a conundrum. From what I can deduce, the cirque opened at the location we saw these plays at, in 1973. My brother died in 75 and was getting sick in 74, so we had to have seen Charlie's Aunt in 73 (or, possibly, 74) but I can find no indication of the play having been staged other than in 1975. So, strange....
Roderick McDowall (sometimes written MacDowall) was a British actor. He was born in London to a family enthusiastic about the theatre, and made his first film appearance at the age of ten. It was as Huw in How Green Was My Valley (1941) that he made his name, and he appeared in many other films as a child actor, including The White Cliffs of Dover (1944) and some of the Lassie series, where he appeared opposite the young Elizabeth Taylor.

McDowall was one of the few child actors to continue his career successfully into adulthood, but it was usually in character roles, notably in four of the five original Planet of the Apes movies (1968-1973). Other film appearances included The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974). He also appeared on stage and television.

Now the program on that link above says Vincent Price, another of my movie idols, was also in it, but Roddy McDowall was the biggest star I remember from seeing the play, that night in Seattle. Its possible that perhaps, Vincent Price was ill, and we may have been disappointed, but I do not clearly remember if that is true, or not. What an event it would have been, had Price also acted that evening.


Price played Stephen Spettigue on August 12, 1975, in Seattle, and elsewhere on March 16 to April 10, 1976, and May 10 to June 26, 1976.

On another evening, I saw Keenan Wynn in a play there, directed by his son, on the night that I first got engaged. After the play, Keenan sat on a chair, on stage, for a question and answer period. His son spoke, saying his father was partially deaf, but he would transfer questions so he could hear what the audience was asking. This too, was a very pleasant evening. But that is a story for another time.

The Cirque opened in 1950 and had several incarnations at different locations around Seattle. On February 16, 1969, Seattle's Cirque Playhouse closed "permanently" after 17 years in the Central Area. Limited parking and an increase in street violence in the neighborhood had cut attendance. After two years of putting on summer shows in Port Townsend and for the Seattle Parks Department with a core of six loyal actors, it reopened as a weekend dinner theater in the Georgian Room of the Olympic Hotel (4th Avenue and University Street) in March 1971.

In 1973, the Cirque moved to a remodeled bowling alley at 131 Taylor Avenue N where it became the only professional dinner theater on the West Coast. By 1975, the Cirque had staged 225 shows featuring actors such as Sterling Holloway, Edward Everett Horton, John Carradine, Mercedes McCambridge, Hans Conreid, Ruta Lee, Eve Arden, Bob Cummings, Howard Keel, Keenan Wynn and Roddy McDowall.

I had never been to the Cirque before and my mother was busy talking to the ticket agent at the front counter, just inside the front doors. I saw that there were some double doors open, and bored, I wandered through them. As I was entering them, I realized it was the dinner/stage area and I wanted to see the stage. So I walked into that area.
From Charlie's Aunt
I turned right and I was looking at the stage. Standing at the stage, leaning over, his elbows on the stage as he gazed at the proscenium, possibly thinking about the performance, stood, Roddy McDowall, smoking a cigarette.

He felt someone behind him, and he turned around. We looked at one another. I saw no hint in his eyes of like, "Oh no, another fan" or anything like that. He was as nice as can be. He walked over and put his hand out. We shook hands. We talked for a couple of minutes, before my mother walked in with my little brother.

I had the chance to tell Roddy McDowall how much his movies had meant to me over the years. I couldn't say enough, fast enough, but he got the point. He couldn't have been more gracious and humble. He thanked me for my words, in a completely heartfelt and affected way. I told him we were there to get tickets to his play and we couldn't wait to see it. Then my mother walked in and they talked, perhaps shook hands, by that time I was so stunned, I cannot remember anything beyond my stepping away from McDowall.

I haven't met all that many famous people. But if you ever think of the scene of someone meeting a long time idol and being disillusioned by it, this was the exact opposite of that. I was charmed, grateful, and continued being a big fan.

For more, check out this fan site.

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